Missouri angler David Ryan is after the sole remaining berth into the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 24-26 on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee. Ryan came close to getting that career-changing Classic berth in 1997, but ultimately fell short by a slim margin.
Competitor Jeff Coble of North Carolina - who qualified for the 2002 CITGO Bassmaster Classic - is more interested in the championship’s $100,000 top prize.
But only one angler will take both the berth and the huge payday. After Day 1 on Thursday, Coble, 43, was in the lead, charging ahead of the pack with 14 pounds, 9 ounces. Ryan trailed by a little more than a pound, after catching a limit of 13 pounds, 6 ounces.
Although the Bassmaster Classic represents the pinnacle of bass fishing – it awards legendary status to the winner along with a $500,000 top prize – the reality is many ESPN Outdoor Bassmaster Series anglers are targeting the $100,000 prize.
“That Classic berth is certainly icing on the cake,” Coble said. “But I am more interested in that $100,000. That would certainly help out a lot.”
Coble led the 50-boater field that will duke it out for two more days of tough fishing on East Lake Toho. Coble found most of his success on a Zoom Craw lure that he also used in practice. On that lure, he landed a 5-9 lunker.
Both Ryan and Coble illustrate just what this championship provides for weekend anglers. They had earlier success in the sport and are trying to get back to the top of their game through the grassroots-level tournament. Ryan fished the CITGO Bassmaster Tour as a professional in the mid-‘90s and would like to return to that level.
“I would love to have the opportunity of fishing in the Classic,” the 36-year-old said. “I came so close before, but I have a long way to go.”
Fishing aggressively with moving baits, Ryan was most successful with a custom Rat-L-Trap. Ryan custom-painted the Rat-L-Trap, something he often does for other anglers to supplement his income.
Following Coble and Ryan in the standings were Florida’s Mike Balon (12-0) and North Carolina’s David Wright, who are tied for third, and Tennessee’s Jason Sain (10-8) in fifth place.
On the non-boater side, Alabama’s Wayne Bigbee (8-7) held a slim lead of 3 ounces over Georgia’s Chris Woodward (8-4) in the chase for the $50,000 grand prize. Rounding out the top five are Texan Frank Kirk (5-2), Arkansas’s Lynn Ibbotson (4-14) and South Carolina’s Greg Sigmon (4-10).
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